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Maricopa County Attorney candidates talk body cameras, police reform, and Breonna Taylor

Posted at 10:11 PM, Sep 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-24 01:21:39-04

PHOENIX — The focus of the November election centers mostly on the pick for President, but the Maricopa County Attorney's race is receiving increased interest due to the state of the country surrounding police conduct, funding and accountability.

ABC15 talked with County Attorney Allister Adel and Democratic challenger Julie Gunnigle about the issues facing the country right now and their positions on body cameras, police reform, and building trust between the community and government.

Both candidates said, because they had not reviewed the evidence in the case, they could not make a specific judgement call about how they would've handled potential charges in Breonna Taylor's death.

"I’m not privy to the police reports and such. Anytime there’s a loss of life it is tragic," said Allister Adel.

"I was saddened, but not surprised," said Gunnigle. "So few cases are ever pursued that fall along these sorts of lines. I am heartbroken for her family. This loss is tragic, and when there is a decision to either not prosecute some or under prosecute others, there is a continued erosion of community trust."

ABC15 asked, in light of Breonna Taylor's death, do the candidates think "certain police practices, like no-knock warrants, need to be re-evaluated?"

"I believe any of us in any profession could always look to do better and be better...that is a question for the police departments to decide," said Adel.

"Yes, we need to take a hard look as to the efficacy and safety of no-knock warrants," replied Gunnigle.

Both candidates feel strongly about body cameras.

"Of course we should be supportive of body cameras on police officers when they are interacting with the public," said Gunnigle.

"I truly believe more evidence is useful in any case," said Adel. "Especially now when we have technology available to us."

County Attorney Adel sent letters Wednesday to Arizona's Governor and other elected leaders, in the State House and Senate, calling for body cameras for all Arizona law enforcement officers.

She specifically mentioned the recent death of Dion Johnson at the hands of the DPS motorcycle trooper, who was not equipped with a body nor dash camera.

The entire agency, with 1,200 troopers, still do not have body cameras in 2020 despite bipartisan support from some state lawmakers.

"Would you consider that [lack of body cameras] a failure," asked ABC15.

"It is a failure. It is a failure. Body cameras are just good public policy," said Gunngile.

"I wouldn’t characterize it as a failure. I would characterize it as, we’ve had a lot of other priorities in our community...but this should be made a priority and I’m committed to standing behind that."

Adel said she has been in favor of body cameras since the minute she was appointed to fill the county office in October 2019, following Bill Montgomery's move to the State Supreme Court.

Gunnigle though, is critical of Adel speaking up now, saying Adel should have been more vocal about body cameras when it was being considered in the legislative session earlier this year.

The role of the county attorney is a complicated one. On one hand, they work with law-enforcement every day to prosecute people accused of crimes. At the same time, they are frequently called on to judge police shootings and make judgments on whether or not to charge officers with crimes.

Some wonder if the close partnership impacts a county attorney's decision to charge officers in controversial cases involving force.

"Would you say you are on the same team as law-enforcement?" asked ABC15.

"Yes and no," said Adel. "When anyone commits a crime, whether they are a police officer or a civilian, they are going to be held accountable. I am not beholden to police unions or anyone else."

Look, I don’t think criminal justice knows any team," said Gunnigle. "And looking at anything with an us versus them mentality just isn’t compatible with what justice requires."

In this time fraught with civil unrest, protests, and polarizing opinions on racial injustice and the role of police, both women acknowledged the need to heal division.

"What are actionable things to repair and build trust in the community?" asked ABC15..

"I think repairing and building trust first has to start with acknowledging there’s a problem - and in Maricopa County we have some the largest disparities in policing and prosecution in the nation. And I have not seen any effective policy come out of our county attorney’s office that would effectively address his issues. I would address that day one," said Gunnigle.

"We are in a time of civil unrest, but it is important and incumbent on us to have conversations," said Adel. "Without having those conversations, we will continue to have civil unrest. I also support peaceful protests, that is our right in this country, but when it crosses the line into criminal activity, then those will be held accountable."

County Attorney Adel touted her community advisory team this week, which helps review cases involving police shootings. Adel said the four community members involved in reviewing and advising her on the Dion Johnson case were a diverse group.

"Minorities, defense investigators, law school professors. But we are not releasing their identity for their security and confidentiality purposes," she said.

Gunnigle meanwhile said she would share names of community members and make the case review and decision-making process more transparent to the public.